What is heart disease?

Heart disease is when the heart's blood supply becomes narrowed due to plaque build-up in the arteries. The arterial plaque can lead to chest pain (angina), heart attack, and even death. Each year 805,000 Americans have a heart attack. For over 200,000 of them, it's not their first one. Unfortunately, for many, it's their last. However, it does not have to be this way. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable. Knowing your plaque score and taking charge of your health through diet and lifestyle changes can help you maintain a healthy heart as you age.

Heart disease describes the group of illnesses that affect a person's heart and circulatory system. Over 800,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease every year. Additionally, 160,000 heart disease deaths are people under 65.

Heart disease does not have just one cause. Many factors increase the odds of developing this condition, including age, family history, lifestyle choices, and risk factors such as obesity or diabetes, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

Understanding the risk factors for heart disease

The heart is a muscle. To work, it needs oxygen-rich blood and nutrients from the body's other organs. Individuals leading a sedentary lifestyle and not getting enough physical activity are not maintaining the strength their heart needs to pump blood. This inactivity slows down the heart's functions allowing plaque to build up more easily on the artery walls, which causes calcification.  

When this happens, the arteries are narrowed or blocked, and blood flow slows down or stops altogether, either of which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Plaque also builds up from two other major risk factors—smoking and high cholesterol.

Preventing plaque build-up

Plaque is a thick layer of fatty substances that can build up in the walls of an artery, also referred to as calcification. It starts to stiffen the walls of the arteries as the thickness increases. High levels of cholesterol, smoking, alcohol use, and stress are all factors that contribute to plaque build-up and calcification in your arteries.

Leading a healthy lifestyle

It's never too late to make changes to your lifestyle. The three top ways to help your heart are quitting smoking, improving your diet, and increasing your daily physical activity. Change isn't easy. Talk to your doctor about working with a nutritionist and fitness trainer to boost your overall health. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. and worldwide. But what many people don't know is that you can prevent and even eliminate heart disease through education on how to control plaque and calcification. By understanding cardiovascular disease, the risk factors, and your plaque score, you have the tools necessary to make the lifestyle changes essential to extend your longevity and life quality.

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